If I crane my neck out of the window over my right shoulder where I am currently writing, I can just about see the windmills at Whitelee Wind Farm, a massive 215-turbine development that is capable of powering over a third of a million homes and is very likely the reason these words make it beyond my fingertips and out into the great beyond. The wind farm is situated on Eaglesham Moor, a windswept, sparse and barren moorland that lies on the fringes of East Ayrshire and East Renfrewshire, just to the south of Glasgow. Before the motorway was extended close-by, it was often the route used by commuters who worked in East Kilbride and Motherwell. Using it in winter time was usually fraught with danger; single-lanes, sudden snowfalls, low-lying clouds of darkness. It was an imposing, unwelcoming part of the world.
Almost 80 years ago (May 1941), Rudolph Hess, Hitler’s right hand man and orchestrator of much of the Nazi’s unforgiveable crimes against humanity, crashed his plane into the ground on Eaglesham Moor. Quite what he was doing flying solo over Scotland has never been satisfactorily explained, but common consensus would suggest that he was flying to meet the Duke of Hamilton – a well-connected figure – in an attempt to call an end to the Second World War. When his plane began running low on fuel, he began to bail out first his ammunition and then himself by parachuting before the inevitable happened. A bang was heard as the explosives ignited, closely followed by the stuttering sound of his plane’s engine as it crashed nose-first into the peaty Scottish soil.
The locals of Eaglesham village, realising it was a German Messerschmitt that had come down, raced to get a closer look. First on-site was a pitchfork-wielding farmer, and it was he who Hess surrendered to. He was taken to the Home Guard in the nearby town of Busby, but it wouldn’t be until the following day, when military personnel began descending on the locality, that the pilot’s identity became apparent. Within a week, Hess was imprisoned in the Tower of London. He was given the Prisoner of War number 31G-350125.
As you of course know, Joy Division‘s debut release, the An Ideal For Living EP featured dubious Nazi imagery. Alongside the band’s iffy name written in Germanic font, the sleeve shows a Hitler Youth drummer boy. Call it misguided, call it punk, but when the time came for the EP to be rereleased, it’s interesting to note that the drummer had been replaced by an arty shot of some scaffolding and the band’s name – still contentious of course – was printed in a much more agreeable font. The accusations of Nazi sympathy didn’t end though.
The opening track Warsaw – the band’s original name, after the city in Poland that the Germans laid siege on at the start of the war – began with a punkish shout of numbers, but not the enthusiastic and standard 1, 2, 3, 4! that countless bands have used to herald their giddy arrival. Warsaw begins with an enthusiastic “3-5-0-1-2-5-Go!“, not quite the number of the beast, but not far from it. Joy Division laid out their statement of intent by counting off with Rudolph Hess’s Prisoner of War number. And for good measure, they repeated the 31G prefix over and over in the chorus.
Joy Division – Warsaw
Now, the mid ’70s was a time of Warlord and Victor comics, of Commando books and Sven Hassel novels, of best man’s fall in the playground. It was an era when you could ask your grandparents what they had done in the war and they still had the grey matter and compos mentis to tell you. Many cities bore the scars of bombed-out, shell-shocked destruction. Kids played on the rubble where former factories stood. For many in ’70s UK, the memories of the war were clearer and easier to recall than what they’d eaten for yesterday’s breakfast.
That Joy Division had something of an obsession with WWII was not that unusual. In fact, it was pretty normal. To put it into perspective, less time had elapsed between the Second World War ending and Joy Division releasing An Ideal For Living than the time between New Order’s Ceremony and their return-to-form of sorts album, Music Complete. Just let that sink in.
The track that brought Joy Divison to the world is an angry blast of prime punk; insistent, exciting and real, with a great wheezing, descending riff between the choruses and the verses. Even this early on, Stephen Morris’s drums have a slight tang of electronic treatment, rattling and reverberating between Ian Curtis’s punkish shout and Peter Hook’s solid slab of bass, as far removed from his signature sound as you could possibly get.
By all accounts, Joy Division were quite the thrill in the live setting, and, as self-producers, they captured just that on Warsaw and the rest of the EP. It’s essential listening and still thrilling even after all these years. You knew that already though.